Phase 1: Posing Real Questions

Updated 5 years 3 weeks ago

This is Phase 1 (although technically my second phase) of work on my Inquiry Project that I will be studying for a month in Xizhou. In Phase 0, I decided on a final topic for my project, which is Local Foods Business Case Study. In this project, I will be picking a small restaurant/ street-food station to live and learn from while at Microcampus. In Phase 1 I will be establishing what I know and what I want to learn as well as creating ten Big Questions about my topic. To try and understand more about small restaurants or food vendors in XiZhou, I did background research, which is displayed in Phase 3. I did this research so that I will already have a good understanding of my topic when I get there, and to help me create my ten Big Questions.

What I Know
I know that small businesses, such as street-food vendors, do not earn much money. Often times, not even enough to provide for themselves. Also, that usually small businesses have a lot of competition with big corporate companies, such as McDonald's. However, in Xizhou that does not seem to be much of an issue. Along with this, I know about some of the food local to Xizhou. I know about the famous spicy potatoes, Xizhou Baba, and a few other small business restaurants that I just have to eat at. Of course, I will consider all the types of food I have heard about when deciding which restaurant/food vendor I will be learning from and completing my case study with.

How I Know
Honestly, I do not know much about running a small business, but all that I know mainly came from Alexis S.'s Inquiry Video, which was amazing. She taught me all that I wrote above about small businesses in general and small businesses specific to Xizhou. As for all the foods, I have heard so much talk from Alumni about the incredible Xizhou cuisine. 

What I Want to Know
While in Xizhou, I want to learn and discover so much about the food, the business, and of course the people. I want to learn to appreciate food and what goes into the whole process of field to plate. Along with this, I want to try and learn to make a recipe or two, special to Xizhou. I hope to discover the workings of a small business run in a very small village, especially the economics of it. However, most of all I would love to connect with the people. Although my Chinese is not fluent, I want to become friends with the people I involve in my project. I want to learn about their lives and why they do what they do. 

After establishing my knowledge on my topic, I spent time researching it. This research is shown in the Background Research section in Phase 3. I learned so much about cuisine in XiZhou and the way small businesses are run. This information will be incredibly helpful to me as I create my ten Big Questions and also to give me a better basic understanding of what I will be studying at Microcampus. The ten Big Questions are further inquiry on my topic that will be my energy source while in XiZhou. I can use these questions to interview many different people and learn information specifically to the village. When I list the questions below, I tried to answer them (in italics) with what I already know, some of which were correct, and then I expanded upon these answers once at Microcampus. You can go to see my Phase 3 for detailed answers to these questions. 

10 Big Questions

1. What are the most common meals in XiZhou for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

Spicy potatoes, XiZhou baba, and the Mild Curd are told to be pretty common and favored dishes in XiZhou, at least by tourists. Many types of vegetables are plentiful in XiZhou and are used in making daily meals there. Also, I would assume that rice is a staple food there.

I was incorrect about my guess above. Spicy potatoes, XiZhou baba, and the Mild Curd are more like snacks. Also, each family enjoys and eats different types of meals. However, many people enjoy stir-fried vegetables for lunch and dinner.

2. What ingredients are locally grown and what role do they play in the meals in XiZhou?

Rice, wheat, beans, maize, and tobacco are a few of the locally grown crops.  

When I asked people this, they mainly said rice, garlic, and chang dou, which are the main crops here. Rice is eaten at almost every meal.

3. What are some reoccurring flavors in XiZhou cuisine that are favored?

There is a moderate balance between the flavors (such as spicy, salty, sweet, sour, etc.) but there is an emphasis on sour-spicy. Also, the locals enjoy sweet snacks.

4. Have the food or flavors changed at all since XiZhou has become more prone to tourists? What has changed and why?

I think it is possible that some of the meals have become less hot because often foreigners do not like as much spicy flavor. The meals have remained the same; however, the tourists seem to prefer salty versions of snacks, such as savory Baba.

5. Why do you run the restaurant/ food cart that you do? Were you inspired to become a chef/ small business owner?

The people who run these small businesses probably grew up making these dishes. Most of the people's parents taught them how to cook and then they had an interest and decided it was a good way to make a living. 

6. What were your parents' jobs? Did their professions have any effect on what you do for a living?

This is probably a different case for each person, although I would guess they were somehow influenced by their parents. The majority of people's parents were not chefs, however they taught their kids how to cook. 

7. Do you enjoy this profession and your life? Why or why not? What would you wish to be different?

Based on findings from alumni, I've learned that most of the people there are generally happy no matter what their job. This is accurate; everyone says they are happy with their life. However, when they talk about their kids, they say they "want better" for them. 

8. Do you earn enough financially to support yourself and your family? What do you consider "enough"?

Some of the larger restaurants might earn more, but I know that street vendors get payed very little amounts of money, especially in comparison to what I am used to.  

9. What advice would you give to your children in order to lead a happy life? Would you suggest for them to take after your lifestyle?

They probably just want they're child(ren) to do what they love. This is true and they say that they want their children to live a "better" life than them, which I believe means more money.

10. What is your favorite or most popular dish? Why do you think people like it? How do you make it?

One of the most popular dishes is XiZhou baba and it is made using dough with pork and onions, at least for the savory version. The preferred dishes of each restaurant vary, but they usually have to do with what has been famous for many years; traditional dishes.

Before I go to XiZhou, I think I should learn more about the specific dishes and whether they are usually sold at restaurants or street vendors. This could help me to, once in XiZhou, quickly decide on where I want to spend my time. Also, if I know about the dish I could spend more time getting to know the people and maybe even learning how to make a dish or two. 

The next step of my Inquiry Project journey can be seen in Phase 2. Now that I have some basic information and a few main questions, I will be reaching out to some experts on this topic, such as Microcampus alumni. Midway through Phase 2 I will be heading to XiZhou, so be sure to stay posted!


Great topic!


Hey Anna!

That sounds like a really interesting topic! I would be curious to see which local cuisine business you end up choosing, since there are so many to pick from. I think it would be interesting to learn about some of the restaurants and food vendors around Sifang Jie (the main square), since there are tons of local students and tourists who eat there. However, it would also be interesting to investigate the smaller businesses to learn more about the owner's daily life when running the business, or his/her business strategies. Anyway, I'm sure you will have a great time learning about local food businesses (and eating everything they have to offer).

By the way, it looks like you are really ahead of everyone, which makes life so much easier later on. Then you can relax and laugh at everyone else while they continue working. (Just kidding don't actually do that Mr. T will get mad at me for saying that)

Thanks for the bar of chocolate,

Hi Rena!


Hi Rena!

Thanks for commenting; I didn't think anyone (besides Mr. T) actually read our work. I was definitely thinking about SifangJie because apparently that's where many of the alumni usually ate. However, I was thinking about a street food vendor because they're a smaller "business" and it seems somehow more personal. 

I actually though I might be a bit behind, but after hearing from you and talking to my fellow "micro-mates", I realize I'm in a pretty good place.

I genuinely hope you don't get sick and die from the chocolate bar,


Love your topic!



I love your topic, and I cannot wait to see what else you are going to discover about Xizhou cuisine. Just reading about what you have learned so far has made me hungry and miss Xizhou's wonderful food. I miss baba and spicy potatoes so much! Xizhou has really unique flavors, and really great food, really something unlike something you can find in Shanghai... I am sure you will have a lot of fun researching at Xizhou (and tasting a lot of food). Can't wait to read more about your research. (:




Thanks for commenting, I know you've been attempting to for quite some time. ;) I am very excited to try all the local flavors of XiZhou and learn where, why, and how they are made. Any suggestions on who or where I should do my case study? Thanks!


I am 14 years old and have been living in Shanghai for about four years now. I go to Shanghai American School in Pudong and went to XiZhou as part of the Limitless group in the Spring of 2015. I learned about the people in XiZhou as well as their role in the cuisine. Microcampus was an amazing experience for me and I will always miss the beautiful views, the people, the amazing food, and I will remember the countless life lessons Mr. T taught us. If anyone needs any advice for their Inquiry Project or going to Microcampus in general, please contact me!